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EU urges Russia to end airstrikes, push political solution in Syria

EU foreign ministers have called on Russia to cease airstrikes on targets that go beyond the "Islamic State." The foreign policy chiefs have said Russia should use its influence in Syria to reach a political solution.

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Assad - what role in Syria’s future?

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday have strongly condemned Russian airstrikes hitting non-"IS" targets in Syria, and urged Moscow to use its influence in the country to help advance a political solution to the conflict.

"Russian military attacks that go beyond Dae'sh [IS] and other UN-designated terrorist groups, as well as on the moderate opposition, are of deep concern, and must cease immediately," the ministers said in a statement.

"This military escalation risks prolonging the conflict, undermining a political process, aggravating the humanitarian situation and increasing radicalization," the foreign ministers said.

The EU has been struggling to develop a united approach to the nearly 5-year civil war in Syria, but reaching a solution has gained urgency after a new influx of refugees made their way to Europe this year.

The debate centers around how best to reach the two goals of ushering in a political transition that addresses the root causes of the conflict, while also defeating "IS" militarily.

The conflict has been complicated by nearly two weeks of Russian airstrikes in a campaign Moscow has said targets "Islamic State" and other terrorist groups. But Western nations have said the attacks are primarily targeted at Western-backed rebels and bolstering the Assad regime.

Calling the Russian intervention a "game changer," Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, admitted on Monday it was "much more complicated than just saying 'positive' or 'negative.'"

"It has to be coordinated, otherwise it risks being extremely dangerous, not only from a political point of view but also militarily," she added.

Political transition

While calling on Russia to end airstrikes on Western-backed rebels and to focus on IS, the EU also urged Moscow to work towards a UN-backed political transition. But the EU remains divided over how such a political transition should unfold, and the role of Russian-backed Assad within it.

There are policy differences between factions within the EU: Germany, Spain and Britain all argue Assad may play a role in any transition, while France and others say Assad must step down before a political process can proceed.

In the end, the EU agreed "there cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership," but seemed to leave open the possibility of Assad's role in a transition.

Speaking about the role of Assad in ending the conflict, Mogherini said it is a process that "has to have all the actors around the table."

However, the EU appeared united on the point that Assad should have no place in the fight against IS, while Russia has argued the president's regime should be included in any military action against the extremist group.

"As a consequence of its policies and actions, the Assad regime cannot be a partner in the fight against Dae'sh [IS]," the EU said.

The foreign minsters urged "those with influence on the parties, including on the Syrian regime, to use this influence to encourage a constructive role in the process leading to a political transition and to end the cycle of violence."

The EU added that Russia should "push for a reduction of violence and implementation of confidence-building measures by the Syrian regime."

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